Second Guest Post by Valery Kostrov, a resident of the capital, a humanities graduate.
Suddenly, after the zoomers in Russia began to recall the fashion and lifestyle of the Russian nineties (the famous song of the popular singer Monetochka “In the nineties they killed people, And everyone ran completely naked, There was no electricity anywhere, Only fights for jeans with Coca-Cola .. “), they were joined by a generation of those who were teenagers and young people in the difficult Russian 1990s. Neighborly work chats immediately went into threads about how they would buy everything at the clothing markets, how Moscow Mayor Sobyanin would again start building retail stalls (points) in Moscow, how modern shopping centers would be given over to compartments for small entrepreneurs, how everyone would start using pirated software and watch pirated movies with bad translations. How everyone gets poorer and goes to dig forgotten vegetable gardens for potatoes.
My friend today was glad that he bought a walk-behind tractor for cultivating the land in OBI at the old “pre-war” prices, using credit money from a card. Grassroots connections have already begun on the topic of delivering spare parts from China for expensive cars or household appliances and everything that is needed in modern society. Everyone understands that the time has come. Will the criminalization and disintegration of the country become a consequence of this, as it almost happened in the 90s? It’s hard to predict.
But now (despite all the problems of corruption and incompetence) the Russian state bureaucracy is well built (even better than ten years ago), there are digital means of control over taxes and citizens, and these tools are being developed. In addition, smuggling existed before – my father on the outskirts of the Central Russian regional center for a long time in 2018-19 bought Marlboro cigarettes with the inscription “only for duty free”. Where are they from? There are several places in Moscow (large or local markets) where they sell inexpensive and very high-quality cheese from Iran or Serbia. It is almost of Swiss quality, but costs 3-4 times cheaper … There is also a huge segment of regional medium and small businesses that, after some difficulties (of course, many will go bankrupt) will be able to work and produce degraded copies of goods from IKEA (from wood for sure) or beer no worse than Carlsberg. Yes, these entrepreneurs will use foreign machines – but most often they were bought second hand in Europe for next to nothing and restored by craftsmen from the same Russian cities.
Yes, the middle class is shocked by the departure of everyone from the country. But the Russian middle class grew in the 90s. It started in poverty and destitution, he then had black nails from picking potatoes with his hands. And he begins to remember those habits – installing pirated software, visiting the abandoned village of his great-grandfather to plant potatoes and plow the land. Plus everyone already has experience of living in the market and plus there is a huge infrastructure. Now the general consumer exodus of Western companies, the rupture of cultural, social, and scientific ties is beginning to work for the Putin regime, and not in the short term, but for a long time. Everyone knows, everyone says – “these will be difficult years, but.”
Those who leave, they leave. The rest will stay and live, and they are unlikely to fall in love with Western brands as passionately as they are now. Yes, Russia is becoming a practically unfree state with total censorship, which affects the educated middle class and the cultural elite very strongly. But the “deep people” have always been drinking in the kitchens. And they will complain about the government by planting potatoes or drinking pickles with vodka. Cucumber, vodka, boiled potatoes, ‘Discount price’ stores with pirated fake cheap copies of Western brands will grow ever more frequent. Chinese household appliances and cars – too. Yes, people will become much poorer and go through a period of scarcity. My neighbors and acquaintances have already stocked up on food and essentials, and the shelves are still full, although prices have gone up a lot. The excitement is palpable. Will it be worse? Yes. It will probably be a tough summer and fall. But it will be the spring of planting the crop, the summer of taking care of it and the autumn of harvesting.
One thing is not clear – an endless rehearsal of public refusals of everyone from Russia, is it supposed to achieve? That Russian tanks will stop, mothers will call their sons and say that they did not bring a new collection to Uniqlo. Most of the wives and mothers of soldiers and officers already led a modest life – like in many armies of the world, the Russian army consists of a “deep”, very poor people, for whom the army is a means of social mobility. In addition, the West has already done a deal with the Russian oligarchs [giving them six months to put their affairs in alternative offshore instruments], but punishes the people. Did Navalny call for this in his heated speeches? Why does Western civilization give Russia to China and Iran… World, give me an answer. It doesn’t give an answer.